On December 8, 2015, the Supreme court of Bangladesh set January 6, 2015, as the date for delivering verdict on the appeal filed by Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ameer of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, challenging his death penalty. Considering the past record of the judicial apparatus in question, there is considerable ground for belief that despite the overwhelming evidence available to challenge the verdict, the death sentence will be upheld nonetheless, resulting in the culmination of another instance of a clear violation of judicial standards.
Although touted as an initiative to redress alleged war crimes committed in the war of 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh, and restore justice to those whose lives were affected in the conflict, the trials are nothing short of an opposition witch hunt that have already seen the execution of four opposition figures to the current administration in Bangladesh through highly controversial judicial processes, three of whom are from Jamaat-e-Islami party.
Before delving into further details, a brief background on the accused is essential. Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami, apart from being the Ameer (Chief) of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, was also an elected MP for two terms (1991-95 & 2001-2006) in Bangladesh. During his latter stint as parliamentarian, he served as Minister for Agriculture (2001-2003) and Minister for Industry (2003-2006).
Well known throughout the Muslim world, he is also the permanent Member of the Muslim World League (Rabita) which is the Central Co-Ordination Committee among International Islamic Organizations and Centres. Involved with a leadership role from early student life, he was the Central President (1969-1971) of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba Pakistan, which was then the largest student organization of Pakistan. Strongly committed to the propagation of Islamic values and ideals in the society, he was named as one of the most top 50 Influential Muslims of the World in 2009 by USA based prestigious “the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre”.
In stark contrast to the above however, the allegations against him as being involved with war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the war of 1971 pit him as being ruthless, inhuman and unpatriotic. The claims however, remain highly controversial and questionable. Among the principal allegations in this regard is the prosecution claim that Nizami was the chief of the Al-Badr, an auxiliary para-military force of the Pakistan Army, which is alleged to have committed atrocities in 1971.
It is alleged that Nizami, through his speeches, incited towards the commitment of crimes against humanity, genocide and murder of intellectuals by the Pakistan Army and its collaborators in 1971. In fact, all four charges on which he was sentenced to death revolve around the claim that he was the principal commander of Al-Badr in 1971. However, as we shall see, the evidence used to substantiate the claims was highly controversial in itself.
The prosecution exhibited various newspaper reports, police fortnightly reports on political situation in 1971, as many as 9 books and identity cards of Al-Badr members. Moreover, the prosecution exhibited as many as 22 newspaper reports of 1971, 31 newspaper reports on Al-Badr published before 16th December 1971 and 35 published after 16th December 1971.
In all evidence exhibited however, nowhere to be found was any relation of Nizami with Al Badr. Moreover, according to the evidence presented, contradictory claims arose regarding the formation and leadership of Al-Badr, thereby rendering the entire case doubtful. According to Exhibit-28/2, the Al-Badr is said to have been founded by Major Riaz Hossain Malik, whereas according to the formal charges, Al-Badr was formed by Ashraf Hussain in Jamalpur.
Moreover, according to Prosecution Exhibit 35, Al-Badr was raised in Mirpur under the leadership and supervision of Pir of Sarsina. Incongruous information regarding the leadership structure of Al-Badr is also given, whereby according to Exhibit-28/2, the first commander of Al-Badr was one Kamran whereas according to a newspaper report exhibit published in 1971, one Al-Mujahidi was claimed as the Chief of Al-Badr.
Despite this, the prosecution was given 22 months for investigation, while the defence was given a mere 3 weeks for their preparation, along with severe restrictions on the number of witnesses in case of the latter. The depositions of prosecution witnesses testifying in allegations of his involvement with alleged atrocities in Pabna in 1971 were contradictory and as many as five listed prosecution witnesses admitted that they were compelled, offered bribes and in some cases tortured to give false testimony against the Jamaat leader.
Most seriously however, since Ali Ahsan Mujahid, the Secretary-General of Bangladeshi Jamaat-e-Islami was executed after a highly controversial trial process on 21 November 2015 after being sentenced as Al-Badr commander; there is no scope for convicting Maulana Nizami as Al-Badr commander. In lieu of the above, the only reason that could be deduced for explaining why Nizami has been targeted in such a manner is his status as a key opposition figure in Bangladesh.
In fact, it was only after Nizami participated in the 1986 parliamentary elections did his political opponents begin to engage in propaganda and allegations of involvement with Al Badr. As explained before, no literature or news information before 1986 showed the slightest connection whatsoever between Nizami and Al-Badr.
The controversial case against Maulana Nizami is not an isolated instance in Bangladesh, but part of a wider picture of state sponsored repression, widespread human rights violations, corruption, silencing of media and any opposition voices. Not only has been the issue of war crimes trials being used for silencing political opposition, but for sowing the seeds of discord and polarization in the society.
To facilitate the essential need to ensure a fair trial in an issue as important to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, justice must be ensured. The government should immediately and unequivocally halt all judicial processes and focus on restoring fundamental rights protection of defendants instead before proceeding any further.